SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Democrats in Oregon tried Wednesday to pressure boycotting Republican lawmakers back to the Statehouse by emphasizing bills that would help their constituents, but GOP senators stayed away for a third day to block a bill on climate change they say should go before voters.
"I wish the Republicans would understand the importance of their being here,” Senate President Peter Courtney said at the podium as he surveyed many empty desks.
He went on to list bills that would likely be voted on after passing the House with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan votes, including ones on water rights in southern Oregon, creating more affordable housing and ensuring that insulin prices are affordable.
“These are just a few of them, so wherever you are out there, will you please come back? Vote the carbon bill and let's get about business,” Courtney urged Republicans before declaring Wednesday's session closed because of a lack of quorum.
Most Republican members of the House joined the walkout on Tuesday.
Speaking from a location she would not disclose, House Republican leader Christine Drazan said she does not take the walkout lightly.
“This is a moment where we have both chambers of the Legislature, Republicans on both sides from the House and the Senate, recognize that there was such a dramatic abuse of power that we had no choice but to walk out from the building,” Drazan, who is from Canby, said. "That's a big deal.”
She accused Democrats, who gained a super majority in both the House and Senate after elections, of running roughshod over minority Republicans.
She and other opponents of the climate bill say the plan to charge polluters for carbon credits would raise costs for consumers, particularly at the gas pump, including for truckers that would increase shipping costs for products.
“If we buy it, it got there on a truck, and especially in rural Oregon where that distance is even greater,” Drazan said.
Republicans want the issue to go before voters instead of being legislated. Democratic leaders in the Legislature, which has only a 35-day session this year, have made it a priority in order to address the climate crisis and attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases which are causing global warming.
Gov. Kate Brown criticized the walkout as she announced that Pendleton will get $1.8 million through an emergency loan for repairs to a levee damaged by flooding in northeast Oregon earlier this month.
Brown, a Democrat, said the no-interest loan is part of a larger $11.65 million recovery package she outlined last week, but it is the only part that can advance without lawmakers' approval.
“When legislators deny quorum and shut down government, it puts critical state funding in jeopardy — and not just for flooding relief. This is important work; Oregonians are counting on us,” she said.
Drazan said Brown should have released that money right away and accused her of holding it back in an attempt to leverage Republican lawmakers.
Kate Kondayen, spokesperson for Brown, said the governor was responsibly managing taxpayer dollars. “It’s disappointing that these lawmakers are trying to turn this into political football,” Kondayen said.
A different bill on climate change also triggered a walkout by Republicans in 2019, causing Courtney to ask Brown to order state police to find them and return them to the Capitol. Courtney, in an interview Tuesday, said that this time, he isn't asking for state police intervention because they are already busy and GOP lawmakers may have left the state. He said he was trying to come up with a way to break the impasse.
A Senate committee on Wednesday passed an amendment to a bill to ensure that campaign contributions cannot be solicited or used to pay fines or legal expenses incurred from being AWOL from the Legislature. The approval moves the bill onto a stack of other legislation that is frozen because of the walkout.
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